Dead bees. Does it really matter?

Yes it does!

In Tasmania, bees are estimated to provide a value of $188 million annually, as pollinators to the agricultural/horticultural sector. (DPIWE, 2001) DPIWE (2001), shows a projected value of the honey bee to the apple, stone fruitand b erry industries as being $40 million, $25 million and $15 million, respectively over a 5 year period.

That’s a total of $80 million dollars. Bees sure are valuable economic units!!

Bees pollinate alfalfa, which is fed to cattle, so bees are directly beneficial to the production of beef. (Shultz, 2007)

From a sustainability perspective, ‘honey bees are the most important pollinators of agricultural and horticultural crops’. (DPIWE, 2001)

In addition to these important contributions, bees are essential to Tasmania’s special honey industry.

In the US, bees are estimated to be worth around USD $50 billion per annum to the economy. (Shultz, 2007)

A large proportion of food crops are dependant on honey bees; Food security is dependent on honey bees – ie We are dependent on honey bees.

It’s clear, from this information alone, if something were to happen to Tasmania’s bees the economy would suffer, and there would be trouble for the agricultural and horticultural industries. How would crops be pollinated? Great losses would occur.

It might come as a worrying surprise to readers, that there have been reports around the world of disappearing bees. Some countries including France, Germany, Denmark and the US, have experienced a 30% decline in bee populations in the last few years.

What’s responsible?

The usual suspects – pesticides, herbicides and fungicides.Forestry Tasmania acknowledges that ‘There is a risk associated with every pesticide operation that chemicals may be transported off-site, contaminate waterways and subsequently be toxic to aquatic or terrestrial organisms.’ (Trainer, Forestry Tasmania )

In Tasmania, the forestry, horticulture and agricultural industries use many of the chemicals that have been responsible for bees disappearing in other countries.

In Germany, disappearing bees, lead to a ban of 8 common pesticides, including imidacloprid. (Bees for Development, 2006) This pesticide was banned in France for the same reason. (Benjamin, 2009)

Imidacloprid is the one that Forestry Tasmania proposes it uses for it’s experimental trap tree project. (Elek, 2009 (a); Elek, 2009 (b)) According to honeybeeworld.com, ‘Increasingly, alarms are being raised that this chemical is systemic, persistent and damaging in subtle ways to bees at lower
exposure levels than previously imagined’.

Why is this chemical going to be introduced in Tasmania, when it has already been banned in other countries?

Chinese research has divulged that chemicals, such as pyrethroids, (traditionally considered ‘safe’ for honey bees) are also toxic and contribute to a number of health problems in bee populations. (Dai, et Al, 2009)

Pyrethroids are widely used across Tasmania in a number of industries.Chlorpyrifos, and alpha cypermethrin are used in forestry plantations to control insect infestations. Both are highly toxic to honeybees. (Hunt, Edwards & Foster, 2003) (Waller et Al, 1998) Chlorpyrifos has actually been proved to be poor at controlling the target insect for which it was orinally used. (Bullinski & Matthiessen, 2002) As well as being a pyrethroid, chlorpyrifos belongs to the dreaded organophosphates – well known for their acute toxicity.

Diflubezuron, another pesticide, used on sheep, has been reported to slow honeybee learning and development. (Sheridan, Mulder, Abramson, C., 2002)

The problem is the use of broad-spectrum pesticides, that kill not only pests, but beneficial insects like honey bees. This has been acknowledged as a problem by the industry, itself. ‘These insecticides are incompatible with maintaining populations of native beneficial insects and achieving biotic regulation of pest populations.’ (CRC, 2007)

In the US, research sampled the pollen carried by bees and showed that it was contaminated with up to 98 different pesticides. (Mullin, 2010) The levels
of use of pesticides are directly responsible for the disappearance of bees and the dreaded ‘Colony Collapse Disorder’.

We have to start altering our attitudes towards the use of pesticides, insecticides and fungicides in both domestic and industrial scenarios.

Fortunately there are initiatives to develop more specific pesticides. The Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry is investigating developing synthetic copies of insects’ chemicals to specifically target certain pests. (CRC, 2007)

Global research is revealing that bees are being affected by GMO crops which have the ability to alter the genes of honey bees in very subtle ways. This is another reason why we should keep Tasmania GM free.

Tasmania’s environmental legislation is lagging behind the rest of the developed world. While other countries are banning the chemicals responsible for colony collapse disorder, we are introducing them, as if they are new, exciting developments.

In addition to this, there is a weird, global trend of phasing out one toxic pesticide, and introducing another, which inevitably requires phasing out, as it’s true
environmental health effects are discovered. Is this not a kind of insanity? Does it not raise the question, ‘Perhaps pesticides are not the answer to managing pest issues?’

Currently the agriculture, forestry and horticulture industries are practicing a self-destructive method of pest control that threatens their very existence.

Government, industries and researchers should be seriously investigating other methods of pest-management, BEFORE we follow suit with other countries and
experience a bee wipe-out. We have had warning – we should make use of it.

If we don’t do something to stop bees from disappearing, we may be next.

There is plenty that the average person can do.

Low maintenance gardens often do not provide enough flowering plants for bees and other important pollinators. Planting lavender, sunflowers, sedums, and any heavily flowering plants are excellent for bees, and many of these plants are low maintenance as well.

Accepting a few weeds on the lawn, or insects on flowers, rather than dousing gardens in pesticides that are toxic to bees, is the way to go, if we are serious about protecting bees. Most suburban gardens are small enough to weed by hand.

Physical methods of weed removal are superior to chemical ones.

Having a garden that has a dense planting pattern with many different species will also help. Once plants are well-established, weeds will no longer grow with ease.

Buying certified organic food that has been grown without toxic pesticides, herbicides or fungicides, sends a clear message to industry that consumers no longer want to be part of a cycle that poisons us, or the environment.

Just these 3 things would make a big difference to the problem of disappearing bees and protect Tasmania’s bee population, and of course, us.

References:

Benjamin, A., (2008), Soil Association Urges Ban on Pesticides to Halt Bee Deaths, The Guardian UK, Monday September 2008, available online

Bullinski, J., Matthiessen, J., (2002), Poor efficacy of the insecticide chlorpyrifos for the control of African black beetle (Heteronychus arator) in eucalypt plantations, Crop Production, 21: 8, 621-627

Cooperative Centre for Forestry Research (2007), Scholarships list, available online at http://www.crcforestry.com/scholarships_list.htm (Cited
04/04/10)

Dai, P., Wang, Q., Sun, J., Liu, F., Wang, X., Wu, Y., Zhou, T., (2009) Effects of Sublethal Concentrations of Bifenthrin and Deltamethrin on Fecundity, Growth, and Development of the Honeybee Apis Mellifera Ligustica. Environmental Toxicology and Chemistry 29: 3, 644 – 649

DPIWE, (2001), Honey Bees, Tasmanian Apiary Industry Summary, Food and Agriculture, Department of Primary Industry, Parks, Water and the Environment, available online at http://www.dpiw.tas.gov.au/inter,nsf/WebPages/EGIL-5BA9EG?open (cited 04/04/10)

Elek, J., (2009 (a)), Some Trees Can be Lethal, Branchline; News from Forestry Tasmania, Forestry Tasmania, 24 August, 2009, available online from:
http://www.forestrytas.com.au/branchline/branchlineaugust-24-2009/ (cited 01/03/10)

Elek, J., (2009 (b)), Testing the Efficacy of Lethal Trap Trees, BioBuzz, Cooperative Research Centre for Forestry, Issue 8, available online at:
http://www.crcforestry.com.au/newsletters/biobuzz/biobuzz8.html (cited 01/03/10)

Hunt, G., Edwards, R., Foster, E., (2003), Protecting HoneyBees from Pesticides, Beekeeping, Department of Entomology, Purdue University, available online at http://www.ces.purdue.edu/extmedia (cited 04/04/10)

Mullin C, Frazier M, Frazier J, Ashcraft S, Simonds R, VanEngelsdorp, D., Pettis, J., (2010) High Levels of Miticides and Agrochemicals in North American Apiaries: Implications for Honey Bee Health, PLoS ONE 5(3): e9754

Sheridan, B., Mulder, P., Abramson, C., (2002), The effects of agricultural pesticides on learning in the honey bee Apis mellifera (L.) with special reference to chemicals considered not harmful to foraging Hymenoptera, Paper presentated at: Student Competition Ten-Minute Papers, Subsection Cd4. Behavior and Ecology, Monday, 18 November 2002 – 2:48 PM

Shultz, D., (2007), Documentary: Silence of The Bees, produced by Nature, Educational Broadcasting Corporation, New York,

Trainer, (?), A Pesticide Impact Rating Index for Tasmania, Science, Research highlights, Forestry Tasmania Website, available online at: http://www.forestrytas.com.au/science/researchstories/a-pesticide-impact-rating-index-for-tasmania (cited 04/04/10)

Waller, G., Estesen, B., Buck, N., Taylor, K., Crowder, L., (1988) Residual Life and Toxicity to Honey Bees (Hymenoptera: Apidae) of Selected Pyrethroid Formulations Applied to Cotton in Arizona, Journal of Economic Entomology, Volume 81, Number 4, August 1988 , pp. 1022-1026(5)

www.honeybeeworld.com (2010), Imidacloprid and Honey Bees; Can They Coexist?, available online at http://www.honeybeeworld.com/imidacloprid/ (cited
04/04/10)